Little known "asterisk procedure" puts controversial item on automatic consent agenda
COLUMBIA, 8/20/12 (Beat Byte) -- Despite widespread public condemnation, a Columbia City Council move to double city manager Mike Matthes' severance pay is set to sail to approval Monday night because of a little known procedure that placed the ordinance on the Council's "Consent Agenda" using a simple asterisk.

Unless a member of the public or City Council objects, Consent Agenda items are voted on as a package and automatically approved. Introduced for a "First Reading" at the Council's August 6 meeting, Council bill B201-12 seeks to boost Matthes' payout from $75,000 -- 6 months salary -- to $150,000 -- a full year's salary should he quit or get fired.
Should Matthes tender a resignation the Council refuses to accept (how often does that happen?) he would get no severance. An earlier Heart Beat report mistakenly stated the reverse.
A new but confusing note about "voluntary resignation" has been added to the ordinance, apparently in a nod to public angst. How it affects Matthes' resignation options is not clear because it appears to contradict other wording.
Asterisk -- and you shall receive!
A single asterisk* placed next to the Matthes severance ordinance on the August 6 Council agenda scheduled it for this Monday's Consent Agenda, effectively removing it from public hearings and further debate unless a Council member or "any other interested party" objects tomorrow night.
An important note about which agenda items have either a single* or double** asterisk appears as a footnote on each Council agenda.
"Non-asterisk items," on the other hand, go through a more rigorous process, with public hearings and extensive debate. Section 15 of the Columbia City Charter entitled Legislative Proceedings lays out the rigorous route city ordinances usually take before approval.
The asterisk procedure, though procedurally sound, is effectively an end run around Charter guidelines members of the public are well advised to watch. Ordinance passage procedures under the City Charter have driven a big part of the Blight Decree/EEZ debate, for instance.

Had sharp citizens not caught another end run around the Charter -- an attempt to pass blight as a "Resolution" rather than "Ordinance" -- the decree blighting 60% of Columbia would be law today.
Automatic Bennie Boost

That Council members would automatically consent to such a substantial benefits boost for the city manager is surprising given public condemnation and poor timing, as city costs soar and city pay stagnates.

"Wow!!!!! If Matthes can get rid of a few more highly paid personnel he might be able to triple his severance," wrote a Columbia Daily Tribune reader amidst many other harshly critical comments.
First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt said the severance boost was a reward for a job well done, though Matthes has only been on the job for a year and change. "It's a way for the Council to put its support behind Matthes," Schmidt told the Tribune.

But Trib readers in a second story also disagreed.
"Exactly what was Matthes` evaluation based on?" one reader wrote. "His ability to spend money? His expectation that city workers should be grateful over a next to nothing raise?"
The timing issue is paramount. Virtually every city user fee and city utility charge is set to jump with double and even triple digit percentage increases, and other city employees are stuck with either benefit cuts or paltry pay increases.
Other city administrators don't get severance packages, either.
"Giving Mike Matthes an increase of any kind at this particular moment is plain bad timing and will hurt him more than anyone else with his employees," yet another Trib reader wrote. "He should be in the same boat with them and he should have had the sense to make sure that was the case. It's hard to turn down enhanced benefits or a raise when it is doubt with good intent. However, this is not the time and he and the Mayor should know it."